Week 12 NFL fantasy advice: Turn back clock and start Newton, Gronk

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates after a Panthers touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (Ralph Freso/AP Photo)

With the fall season arriving, we get a lot of exciting events to look forward to on the sports calendar – MLB free agency, NHL and NBA regular season games, and even the Grey Cup is on the horizon as 2021 begins to wrap up. However, even with Canadian Thanksgiving more than a month in the rearview, American Thanksgiving is finally here, and with it brings a full day of NFL football.

Not only is it an excuse to sit in front of the television all day with a turkey leg in your hand, it also makes for some interesting fantasy football decisions. Do you start that waiver pickup you got on Wednesday? Do you bench a struggling player on Thursday and hope an injured player gets it together for a Sunday start? It’s not made any easier by having two of the best offences in the league (Chiefs and Cardinals) on their bye week, so there are even more choices and not all of them are good ones.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to get a turkey-sized start/sit column out a bit early this week to ensure your Thanksgiving Thursday is as stress-free as possible. You might be in a food coma by the time Bills-Saints kickoff Thursday night, but at least you can rest easy knowing your lineup is locked and loaded for Week 12.

Our weekly picks have been made with 0.5 PPR leagues in mind, with standard rosters of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, and one RB/WR/TE FLEX spot.

QUARTERBACKS

QB Start: Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (vs. Vikings)
We’re all well aware that Garoppolo is not being asked to do much in this offence, as Kyle Shanahan leaned on Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon, and even Deebo Samuel to run wild vs. the Jaguars last weekend. Even so, Garoppolo has scored two touchdowns in each of the last four games, and now gets a vulnerable Vikings defence that gives up the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. It may be a low-volume passing day for ‘Jimmy G’, but the floor has been pretty stable dating back to before Halloween, so if you’re out a Patrick Mahomes or Kyler Murray, it’s not a bad streaming play.

QB Start: Joe Burrow, Bengals (vs. Steelers)
I know this is a tough sell after two subsequent 9-10 point efforts in back-to-back outings, and the Steelers defence has been a formidable one all season long. However, we just saw Justin Herbert shred a unit on Sunday night that was missing TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Joe Haden, three of their most important defensive players. If that should be the case again on Sunday then you can fire up ol’ Joe without much hesitation.

QB Start: Cam Newton, Panthers (@ Dolphins)
Whenever we examine quarterback stats these days (for any signal caller not named Tom Brady, that is), it’s almost a must to examine their rushing output, as that is a bonafide way to fantasy success. With Newton back in Carolina, he did not split time with PJ Walker, and his legs are what carried him to a 25+ point outburst vs. Washington. The Dolphins defence is slightly better, and some might look to what they did against Lamar Jackson a few weeks ago as a cautionary tale – they still give up the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and Newton has some guy named Christian McCaffrey at his disposal. In 12-team leagues, you should be getting him into the starting lineup this week.

Another QB start to consider: Kirk Cousins, Vikings (@ 49ers)

QB Sit: Derek Carr, Raiders (@ Cowboys on Thursday)
After an absolutely en fuego start to the season, Carr has predictably come back down to Earth by throwing six touchdowns to five interceptions over the last five games. Sure, part of it is a lack of options, but he’s consistently making some poor decisions – and now he gets Trevon Diggs and the Cowboys defence, a unit that is just one of three across the NFL to snag more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed. We saw what they did to Patrick Mahomes last week – there must be better options than Carr available on the waiver wire for Week 12, so stay away for now.

QB Sit: Daniel Jones, Giants (@ Eagles)
It’s unfortunate that one of the worst games of the season for Jones was a nationally televised beatdown at the hands of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers because by and large the Giants QB has been a decent fill-in this year. Even though there’s a possibility he’ll bounce back against the Eagles, I think it best to stay away as the Giants just fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. It’s possible interim OC Freddie Kitchens will kick things into second gear, but let’s wait a week or two before we get back on board the Jones train.

QB Sit: Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos (vs. Chargers)
Over the past three weeks, Bridgewater has not thrown an interception. Unfortunately, over the past three weeks, he’s also only thrown two touchdowns. Coming off the bye, there might be some appeal to start him in a pinch, but against a Chargers defence that gives up the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, I’d advise staying away unless you’re in the deepest of superflex leagues.

WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Start: Darnell Mooney, Bears (@ Lions on Thursday)
Even with Andy Dalton suiting up for Da Bears on Thanksgiving, the simple truth is Mooney is the best (and healthiest, despite a minor foot stinger) wide receiver on this team, including Allen Robinson. Mooney got an incredible 16 targets last week so even if half of that production continues with Dalton as the signal-caller he’s still going to be a viable starter. Against the porous Lions defence, start him and don’t look back.

WR Start: DeVonta Smith, Eagles (@ Giants)
Despite the low score last week (8.1 poits in half PPR leagues), it’s easily explained away by the fact that the Eagles got three catches for 47 yards from him in the first half before running away (literally, in this case) with the game in the second half. They’ve gone incredibly run-heavy as a team on the whole, but Smith still remains the most valuable wideout in this offence and he clearly has the implicit trust of Jalen Hurts. The Giants allow more than 250 passing yards per game, so if Hurts looks to throw a bit more, Smith will be the direct beneficiary.

WR Start: Marvin Jones Jr., Jaguars (vs. Falcons)
Probably the riskiest wide receiver proposition, Jones just sometimes is phased out of the offence simply because Trevor Lawrence is throwing him uncatchable balls. However, his 52 yards last week – accumulated once fellow wideout and target hog Jamal Agnew went out with injury – was the second most since Week 4, and he also grabbed four of six targets to boot. Against a Falcons secondary that gives up the seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers, you can start him as a flex play if you’re in a bye week/injury pinch.

Another WR start to consider: Michael Gallup, Cowboys (vs. Raiders on Thursday)

WR Sit: Emmanuel Sanders, Bills (@ Saints on Thursday)
Sanders still has value in this offence despite crashing back down to Earth recently – it’s just hard to trust any Bills player not named Stefon Diggs right now. Dawson Knox saw 10 targets last week, which has ate into the share of everyone else. Until there’s an obvious get-right game for Buffalo, keep the non-Diggs/Allen players firmly on the bench.

WR Sit: Jarvis Landry, Browns (vs. Ravens)
This we know: Landry is the best wide receiver on this roster and by a wide margin. Of course, other teams know this too, and when you have a team like the Browns hell-bent on running the ball, taking away the top passing option is relatively easy. Landry did score a touchdown last week, but that came on a direct snap where he looked to throw into the end zone, before making the snap decision to take it himself – not exactly sustainable production. Kareem Hunt is set to return on Sunday night, so best to avoid the Cleveland pass-catchers for now.

WR Sit: Van Jefferson/Odell Beckham Jr., Rams (@ Packers)
I honestly can’t believe we’ve come back around to discussing Odell Beckham Jr., but if you saw the same game I did prior to the Rams’ bye then you’d understand. It’s possible the time off has given the Rams offence more time to gel, but I think it’s best to avoid most players not named Cooper Kupp right now. If either Jefferson or Beckham show more signs of fantasy life on this offence, especially with Robert Woods done for the year, then we can have this discussion again before the playoffs begin.

RUNNING BACKS

RB Start: Tony Pollard, Cowboys (vs. Raiders on Thursday)
Let’s get this out of the way now: we already know that Ezekiel Elliott, even with the short week, is going to play through the knee ailment and suit up on Thursday. Knowing this, we still can’t ignore the fact that Pollard has grabbed 26 total touches since Week 10 and often gets double-digit carries (in six of 10 games in 2021) as well. With the passing attack limited, the Cowboys will likely lean on Pollard a little more against a Raiders defence that gives up the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs.

RB Start: Ty Johnson, Jets (@ Texans)
With Michael Carter suffering the high ankle sprain last weekend, and both Joe Flacco and Mike White being put in COVID protocol, the Jets offence doesn’t exactly have a ton of playmakers at its disposal. Enter Ty Johnson. Okay, look: he may not be a life-saver, but he could keep your fantasy team afloat as injuries and bye weeks pile up, especially against a Texans defence that gives up the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs. With the lack of options, Johnson will see a ton of work against Houston on early-downs. Get him in your lineup.

RB Start: Antonio Gibson, WFT (vs. Seahawks)
This is a reminder Gibson has been getting an encouraging amount of carries since returning from the bye, 43 over two weeks. Even more exciting was the fact he saw every single carry inside the 10-yard line and he gets a matchup with a Seahawks defence that allows the second-most fantasy points to running backs. It’s been an up-and-down season for someone in whom you likely invested a second-round draft pick, so this week’s game should inch you closer to a nice return on that investment.

Another RB start to consider: Miles Sanders, Eagles (@ Giants)

RB Sit: All Bills RBs (@ Saints on Thursday)
It would be very easy to just write ‘see the Emmanuel Sanders blurb’ because a lot of it would be the same if we’re being honest, but with Matt Breida coming out of absolutely nowhere and Devin Singletary getting the targets through the air, it has essentially made all of three of them (including Zack Moss) virtually worthless. It’s a true committee right now, which is something no fantasy owner wants a part of.

RB Sit: All Titans RBs (@ Patriots)
While the Tennessee backfield did get a little less crowded with the release of Adrian Peterson (I look forward to the ‘Titans legend’ jokes when AP is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame), we still saw D’Onta Foreman get largely sidelined as Dontrell Hilliard got called up from the practice squad and grab seven carries and eight catches. It’s pretty volatile, as Jeremy McNichols could clear the concussion protocol, but even in half or full PPR leagues I’m not sure you want to gamble on a backfield like this against a dangerous Patriots defence. Titans see a better RB matchup vs. the Jaguars after their Week 13 bye, so maybe stash Foreman/Hilliard/McNichols until then.

RB Sit: Alex Collins, Seahawks (@ WFT)
With Chris Carson done for the season, we all figured Alex Collins would get more run, and while he did, sort of, we also saw more carries for Rashaad Penny and DeeJay Dallas (who may not be a bad waiver pickup, as an aside), unfortunately. Penny did get injured on his first play of the game, so perhaps that opens things up for Collins. I just wouldn’t bet on it with the entire Seattle offence stuck in first gear. You may have no choice but to start Collins, but if you can avoid it while Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll figure it out, I would.

TIGHT ENDS

TE Start: Dalton Schultz, Cowboys (vs. Raiders on Thursday)
Despite a relatively pedestrian day for Schultz (six catches, 53 yards), he still saw the second most targets on the entire team vs. the Chiefs last weekend – only Michael Gallup (who you should also be starting) saw more. There is a massive vacuum when it comes to targets in Dallas with Amari Cooper will be out and CeeDee Lamb possibly still in the concussion protocol with the short week. Either way, Schultz is in line for a ton of looks from Dak Prescott, and the Raiders allow the second-most fantasy points to tight ends. Sounds like a Thanksgiving Day feast for Schultz to me.

TE Start: Pat Freiermuth, Steelers (@ Bengals)
It’s time for the weekly disclaimer: even a 5-7 point outing could, in any given week, catapult a player into a top-10 tight end finish. With that in mind, the rookie Freiermuth has now seen six targets or more in five straight games. That is a terrific piece of the overall target share in Pittsburgh even with guys like Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris taking the majority of the workload. What’s more is that fellow Steelers tight end Eric Ebron suffered a knee injury last week against the Chargers. If he misses time, that would lock in Freiermuth into a TE1 finish virtually every week. Start him vs. the Bengals without a doubt.

TE Start: Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers (@ Colts)
We didn’t see a Gronk Spike in the end zone on Monday night, but we still got a top finish from the future Hall of Famer, as he caught six-of-eight targets for 71 yards. If you can get that kind of production from a tight end even without a touchdown, you take it and run. If there are no setbacks and he can avoid any more injuries, the Colts allow the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends on the season. Fire up your Gronks!

Another TE start to consider: Hunter Henry, Patriots (vs. Titans)

TE Sit: Cole Kmet, Bears (@ Lions on Thursday)
While we know Darnell Mooney is going to see a ton of looks with Andy Dalton in at quarterback, we unfortunately do not know if that will be the case with Kmet. In fact, in the early part of 2021, Kmet did not seem to share a particularly vivacious chemistry with Dalton, before Fields was anointed the full-time starter. Until we see more, I’d steer clear, even in a generous matchup with the Lions.

TE Sit: Tyler Conklin, Vikings (@ 49ers)
On the whole this season, Conklin has been a nice surprise in the absence of Irv Smith Jr. He moves the chains effectively and catches most balls thrown his way, however the 49ers allow the fifth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends on the year, and this profiles more as a Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen day anyway. Keep him on the roster, but also keep him on the bench this week.

TE Sit: All Colts TEs (vs. Buccaneers)
Remember when Mo Alie-Cox scored four touchdowns in four weeks earlier this year? Good times. Since then, Alie-Cox, Jack Doyle and even Kylen Granson have cannibalized targets from each other to the point that essentially none of them are worth rostering. Again, the bar is pretty low for tight ends, but that none of them can consistently reach it means it’s probably time to move on. The Colts offence has enough room for Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr., and that’s probably it at this point.

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